Edmonton Swing Dancing Physicist Wins 2018 "Dance Your PhD" Contest

Congratulations to Pramodh Senarath Yapa, the winner of the 2018 “Dance Your PhD” competition, sponsored by Science magazine. Pramodh is a PhD student at the University of Alberta studying the superconducting properties of electrons in very cold states. His thesis is called "Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance." [UPDATE: Check out our interview with Pradmodh here.]

Dance Your PhD is an annual contest which challenges scientists around the world to explain their research through a jargon-free medium: dance. The winner of the Dance Your PhD gets $1,000 and lots and lots of geek cred. (Check out a 2017 entrant on sea stars by UC Santa Cruz student Monica Moritsch.)

A dedicated swing dancer, Pramodh decided to combine his research with his love of dance, enlisting a a bunch of his fellow physics students to help him produce an epic 3 act production on his research. The result is: Superconductivity: The Musical!

We love how clearly he explains the complicated science, with clever lyrics and cute choreography. That Pramodh sings, plays guitar, and dances in his video is so impressive! And the very homemade title cards are incredibly charming.

Here’s the full description of Pramodh’s research from the video:

Cooper Pairs and impurities come to life in a superconductor and dance their little particle hearts out!

Superconductivity is a phenomenon that occurs in certain metals at low temperatures, causing it to lose all resistance to electricity passing through it. At the microscopic level, this is caused by the metal’s electrons – which are non-interacting at high temperatures – pairing up with each other to form a bound state known as a Cooper Pair.

This mini-musical tells the tale of electrons in a superconducting wire through the medium of swing dance. Through 3 acts, the electrons transition from unsociable beings to gregarious dance partners, culminating in a final showdown between the Cooper Pairs and spin impurity punks.

In the first act, we are inside a superconductor above its transition temperature, so all the electrons inside it behave the way they do in normal metals - when a voltage is applied, they flow uniformly down the wire, and for the most part, keep to themselves.

The temperature drops in the second act, and the cold weather turns this seemingly normal wire into a superconducting wire! In this state, the electrons feel a need to pair up and this causes them to flow mostly along the edge of the wire - a hallmark of superconductivity! However, this behaviour is modified when we change the distance between the electron pairs, known as the Pippard coherence length; as we increase the pairs’ separation, they take up more space and thus flow away from the edge of the wire as well.

In the third act, we see how the pairs interact with the punkish spin impurities, which make more and more (magnetic) noise they closer the pairs get. Since the spin impurities are spread uniformly throughout the wire, the overall noise is less when the pairs only flow along the edge, compared to when they’re flowing away from the edge as well. So increasing the Pippard coherence length increases the noise coming from spin impurities!

This video is based on research done at the University of Victoria, BC, Canada, Department of Physics and Astronomy, under the supervision of Professor Rogerio de Sousa and in collaboration with D-Wave Systems Inc. For further information, see the following paper in Physical Review Applied!

UPDATE: Check out our interview with Pradmodh on how he and his friends created this epic production..